Fleet-footed young quartet premieres Stanhope’s sublime work

The Australian, Murray Black, 26 July 2010:

“This opening concert of the Pavel Haas Quartet’s national tour was dedicated to the memory of Musica Viva patron Ken Tribe, who died last week.

Musica Viva’s artistic director Carl Vine suggested that loving the hell out of this concert was the best tribute the audience could pay the great patron of Australian music.

For the most part, it was easy to do. The Pavel Haas Quartet is a dynamic ensemble whose performance largely lived up to its reputation as one of the world’s finest young quartets.

Only its account of Haydn’s String Quartet, Op.76, No.2 failed to fully satisfy. It took time for the group’s balance and timbral blend to click into gear and first violinist Veronika Jaruskova’s articulation was intermittently unclear in the first two movements.

Once it settled down, the ensemble delivered an account that successfully straddled the twin peaks of boldness and refinement.

The former quality was realised by fleet-footed tempos and tight-knitted attack while the latter virtue was achieved through nuanced dynamic control and delightful interplay.

Throughout, the quartet’s timbre was lean and wiry, but without sacrificing warmth.

There were no qualms about the group’s outstanding reading of Dvorak’s String Quartet No.13. Here the tone was luscious and full-bodied.

Beauty of sound became paramount when the quartet lovingly shaped Dvorak’s impassioned, long-breathed themes.

By contrast, its rhythmic vibrancy and ferocious attack generated thrilling excitement in the last two movements.

Speeds were swift, but the group’s textures and articulation remained astonishingly clear.

The overwhelming impression left by the world premiere of Australian composer Paul Stanhope’s String Quartet No.2 was of a creator in complete control of his material. Not a note was superfluous, nor an idea over or underused.

Instead, Stanhope’s conjoined four-movement work revealed an assured sense of structure and impressive breadth of expression.

One of Stanhope’s aims in the quartet is to reflect on the relationship between the old world and the new, just as Dvorak did in his American works. He succeeds admirably.

Passages of frenzied intensity and propulsive energy in the first two movements conjured up the spirits of Janacek and Pavel Haas while the leaping figures and rhythmic drive of the exuberant finale were reminiscent of Carl Vine.

Stanhope is also a natural tunesmith when he wishes to be. The quartet’s third movement, Dirge (Variations), rivals Richard Meale’s Cantilena Pacifica in its soaring beauty and yearning lyricism.

This new quartet is a hugely accomplished work and a significant addition to Australia’s impressive string quartet oeuvre.”

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Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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